New England Patriots: Confidence Is Soaring As The Season Winds Down

2015 Ended Poorly

As the 2015 season wound down, Bill Belichick made some decisions that, looking back, turned out to be questionable (I know, that is heresy in New England, but look at the results).  After winning their first eleven games the Patriots started to wilt. With a bunch of walking wounded, a beat up Tom Brady and the play-offs with home field in game-one guaranteed, he rested some key players and went to a non-existent running game against the J-E-Ts and Dolphins. For the 1st time in may years the Patriots seemed to be playing not-to-lose. 

11-29-brady-hit-high-after-releasing-the-ball-no-penalty-on-this-play
2015 Brady got beat up in Denver

Well, as we all know (so why am I reminding you????) the Pats lost both those games and went into the play-offs having lost four of their last six games. They never completely recovered from those decisions. After winning a home play-off game against the Chiefs (27-20) they traveled to Denver and lost to the ultimate Super Bowl Champion Broncos (20-18) in the Conference Championship game.

How Different Is 2016?

Now, with two games remaining in the 2016 regular season, New England faces the same two teams, NY J-E-T-S and Miami, in a similar situation. The J-E-T-S are out of the race, but always give the Patriots a good fight…and the Dolphins continue to fight for a play-off spot.

So…why does it feel so different?  Here are 5 reasons:

  1. The 2016 Patriots are now playing their best football of the season, unlike 2015, when they were unsure if the defense or offense could hold up
  2. Tom Brady won’t be going into these games already bruised & battered thanks to Dante Scarnecchia and a rejuvenated OL (yeah, I know he’s back to limited practice & on the injury list…but he’s still in better shape than last year) 
  3. The running game is at it’s peak, with LeGarrette Blount rushing for 15 TDs and over 1,000 yards…a healthy Dion Lewis..a solid #3 with James White and the impressive blocking of James Develin. Last year neither Blount nor Lewis were playing due to injuries
  4. The defense is #1 in points against in the NFL. I’ll say that again, the defense is #1 in points against in the NFL
  5. Bill Belichick seems completely confident in all aspects of the Pats game. He’s willing to trust his defense (say what?), offense or special teams to make the crucial play at the end of the game. That’s something that has been missing for many years

Same Decision = Different Results

So, that said, what if Belichick makes the same decisions this year that he did in 2015? If he does, the results should be completely different. This team is tough and in no way resembles the 2015 version of the New England Patriots.

malcolm-mitchell-vs-sf
Mitchell vs 49ers courtesy of Boston Herald.com

They don’t have Rob Gronkowski or Danny Amendola and both are big losses. However, they do have a bruiser in Blount, a quick Lewis plus new heroes in Chris Hogan (highest yards-per-catch in the NFL) and the speed of rookie WR Malcolm Mitchell. Add in tough TE Martellis Bennett and, oh yeah, a well rested Tom Brady!

With a defense that is starting to click without Chandler Jones or Jamie Collins…but is lead by Trey Flowers, always reliable Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and, suddenly rejuvenated Jabaal Sheard, Malcolm Butler, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and a host of others…they are a formidable bunch.

NOTES:

  • Congratulations to Brady, Slater, Hightower & McCourty on their selection to the 2016 NFL Pro-Bowl. Hopefully none will be able to play as they prepare for the Super Bowl
  • Condolences to Malcolm Butler, Blount and Marcus Cannon (can’t believe I’m saying this), who all deserved a shot too
  • The NFL is always fair & objective…just look at their recent “punishment” to the Giants & their Head Coach for being caught cheating! #Integrity
  • This has been an outstanding year for Patriot Coaches Belichick, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Scarnecchia
  • Tom Brady is being penalized again! Many are saying he doesn’t deserve the MVP because he has played 4 fewer games than the others in the running. King Goodell strikes again
  • The Patriots are the only team in the NFL who have not lost a road game this year. Despite that, the advantage of playing in Foxborough in the playoffs is huge.

 

Dante Scarnecchia

 

Hard to believe, but, 14 games down (12-2) with just 2 more before the real season begins. This season has flown by.

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New England Patriots: Belichick’s Dilemma

Anyone who believes Bill Belichick, Head Coach of the New England Patriots,  doesn’t have tough decisions to make every week of the season is living in fantasy land. Despite having the best record in the NFL (OK, I know, Dallas is there too), this year has been a season of turmoil.

Whether it is injuries, suspensions (U-Know-Who), trades, a lackadaisical defense, benching players or any one of numerous week-to-week issues, this has been a season of distractions…something the arguably best coach in the NFL doesn’t like.

Cyrus Jones Needs To Step Up
Cyrus Jones Needs To Step Up

…And now, heading to Denver in game 14,  Belichick has another real dilemma. No, it’s not simply how to win a big game in the Mile High (literally) City, but is what to do with 2016’s 2nd round draft pick (60th over-all) Cyrus Jones.

The rookie from Alabama has been given multiple chances to get over the rookie jitters, but instead of getting better he continues on a downward curve with a multitude of bad decisions and turnovers. As Chris Mason noted in his Tuesday Boston Herald column he fumbled for the fifth time in Monday night’s win against the Ravens , yet his teammates continue to support him.

NCAA Football: Charleston Southern at Alabama
Nov 21, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Charleston Southern Buccaneers quarterback Kyle Copeland (19) tries to tackle Alabama Crimson Tide defensive back Cyrus Jones (5) after he intercepted a pitch at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Jones’ college resume was great:

  1. The young man (23) returned 42 punts for 530 yards
  2. Led the nation with four touchdowns, the most in a single season in Alabama’s history
  3. His 530 return yards rank second all-time in Alabama single-season history
  4. Earned All-SEC honors as a defensive back

With his college resume it was a reasonable expectation Jones could step right in as a punt returner,  easing the burden on Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, but instead:

  • Fans are SCREAMING for the Patriots to give up on him and just let him go
  • Opponents want New England to continue to keep him returning kicks

Well, there is no chance the Pats will just let him go. Be real, this was a 2nd rounder, the Patriots’ 1st pick in 2016. His upside is still high, while his confidence is at an all-time low. Things couldn’t get much worse for the rookie (please!) and, surprisingly, Belichick sounds like he will stick with him through thick and thin.

“We have confidence in all of our players,” Belichick told reporters when asked about the rookie. “Of course once the ball hits the ground, we don’t want to be near the ball and have that hit us,” Belichick said. “That goes for everybody. . . .”

Notes:

  • With the injuries to Defensive Backs Malcom Butler and Eric Rowe,  Jones snaps have grown. Despite being burned against the Ravens, look for that to continue in Denver
  • Surprisingly, the Patriots picked up WR Michael Floyd on waivers. He was released by Arizona after getting a DUI when found passed out with the motor running in his car at 2AM Monday. Hmmmmm! Strange move. In order to make room the Pats reportedly released recently signed Griff Whalen
  • Michael Reiss has reported that the Patriots brought in Devin Hester for a look see. The former pro-bowler is long past his prime and he has actually been worse than Jones this year, if that is possible!

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New England Patriots: 2016 – A Season Of Surprises

If nothing else, 2016 has been a season with many surprises for the New England Patriots. Some have been pleasant…and some haven’t turned out too well. Despite all the changes, this year’s team is once again a legitimate Super Bowl contender and are, at 10-2, right where most expected them to be. Here are my 5 biggest surprises as the season progressed.

#1 BRADY ACCEPTS 4 GAME SUSPENSION

tom-brady-accepts-suspensionHe gave it a gallant fight, but TB finally got tired of deflategate and moved on. Many were disappointed, but it was time to play football. He never acknowledged any guilt despite the Brady detractors using his acceptance of the 4 games to claim it a “win” for the NFL. Nothing about deflategate was a win for anyone…the NFL, Brady, the Patriots or fans anywhere.

#2 – DEFENSE

As the season started fans and prognosticators (my $50 word for the day) were saying the 2016 defense would be top 5 caliber. In one way people were right. As of now they are tied with their next opponent (Baltimore) for 2nd in the NFL for least points allowed (17.2 PPG), trailing only the Seahawks.

Well, we now look at the defense and wonder if it is capable of making the big stop once the playoffs come around. Bill Bodell  wrote  back in August ” The Patriots have at least five guys on this defense who could potentially make the Pro Bowl in Malcolm Butler, Jabaal Sheard, Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Devin McCourty.” 

The big surprise from that group has been the departure of Collins, benching of Sheard and under performance by all but Butler. Overall the defense has not been as bad as it seems to the naked eye, but it certainly still hasn’t proven itself to be an elite unit.

The team is currently ranked in the top 10 in 4 key categories, but considering the weak offenses they have faced, questions still abound :

  • #2 points allowed (207)
  • #9 total defense
  • #12 passing defense
  • #10 rushing defense
  • #9 yards allowed
  • #14 sacks

It is a must for this unit to improve if the Patriots are to go far in the playoffs, let alone win the Super Bowl. Monday Night vs Baltimore will be a true test

#3 OFFENSIVE LINE

Shock would be the word I use to describe how well the OL has performed. Dante Scarnecchia’s goal coming into the season was to solidify a unified unit of 5 to play most snaps…and he has been highly successful with (LT) Nate Solder, (LG) rookie Joe Thuney, (C) UFA David Andrews, (RG) Shaq Mason, (RT) Marcus Cannon. Just how good has this group been?

  1. Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett have been sacked just 26 times while throwing 417 passes
  2. LeGarrette Blount has rushed for 957 yards and 13 TDs

dante-scarnecchiaAdd in that Marcus Cannon, who I have been known to chastise in the past, just had his contract renewed and is having his best season ever in his 6th year as a Patriot = you have realize just how much of a surprise this unit has been. Thank you “Scar.”

#4 – ROOKIE WR MALCOLM MITCHELL

The Patriots drafting of wide receivers has been beyond bad, but this year they hit a home-run (sorry for the baseball analogy) with 4th round pick (112th overall) Malcolm Mitchell. He has quickly gained Brady’s trust and has grown game-by-game while exhibiting his toughness, route running, speed and sure hands. Just look at what he has done over the past 3 games:

  • 8 receptions/82 yards vs Rams
  • 4 receptions/98 yards/1 TD vs 49ers
  • 5 receptions/42 yards/2 TDs vs J-E-T-S

Malcolm Mitchell.jpgThis young man will only get better. He needs to continue to improve with the loss of Danny Amendola & Rob Gronkowski for the offense to control the game. Mitchell is this year’s Dion Lewis. 

#5 – KICKING GAME

The inconsistency of the kicking game has truly been a surprise. This was consider an area of strength when the season began, but has been erratic throughout the first 12 games.

  • Stephen Gostkowski has been AFC special team player of the week twice, including last week against the Rams, but has missed 4 makeable field goals and 3 extra points…not good enough for the highest paid kicker in the NFL.
  • Ryan Allen (no, not Logan Ryan as identified during the Fox telecast Sunday) has given the Patriots great field position throughout his 4 year career in the NFL. This year he hasn’t been consistent, shanking some and leaving opponents in good shape. His net average is fractionally his highest ever (40.8 vs 40.4 for his career), but of his 52 punts only 17 have been inside the 20 yard line.

Playoff game are usually won and lost by field position (I have no data to prove this, but let’s net let facts get in the way of the story), so both Gostkowski & Allen need to be on-their-game as that part of the season rolls around.

Honorable Mention: LeGarrette Blount – read My Apologies to LeGarrette Blount

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New England Patriots: My Apologies to LeGarrette Blount

Tom Brady was the story, picking up win #201, most by a QB in NFL History in the Patriots blowout of the Rams. But, let’s face it, we knew it was coming…just not when.

12-4-brady-wins-201-vs-the-rams

What no one predicted, or thought possible, was the season that LeGarrette Blount is having. Admit it, as the season began you were hoping the Patriots would get a “real” playmaker for the backfield. Blount was a plodder who had to go north & south to make any yardage, and then was going to get 2-3 yards without breaking off anything long…right!

BLOUNT FORCE TRAUMAlegarrette-blount

Let’s start with some statistics thanks to Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal:  Blount leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns (13), he’s fifth in rushing yards (957) and ninth in rush yards/game (79.8).

The only non-quarterback to have more touchdowns is David Johnson (15).

  • 957 Yards
  • 13 TDs
  • 4.4 yards per carry
  • 53 First Downs
  • 1 Fumble lost

Not too shabby for a “plodder” no one wanted.

The first four games without Brady looked to be his only opportunity to strut his stuff. In those 4 games he made opponents shake when he handled the ball, gaining 352 yards on the ground and, surprisingly, catching 3 passes. He ran for over 100 yards against both Miami & Houston before Tom Brady came back in week 5 and, as expected, running the ball was less important.

Carrying the pigskin 31 times in wins against Cleveland & Cincinnati for 87 yards, he averaged just over 3 yards per carry,  as Tom Terrific took over his team.

Not to be forgotten, Blount ran for 127 yards against Pittsburgh and 124 against San Francisco while scoring at least 1 TD against Arizona, Miami, Houston (2), Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh (2), Buffalo, Seattle (3) and LA.  Now, that’s production!

TIME TO BACK OFF CRITICISM

With that resume, it’s time to realize that Mr. Blount has been way above average this year. He has looked quicker, and shown he is capable of actually breaking off a long one once in a while (see featured photo where he broke off a 43 yard TD run).

After the game Blount said “I think he (Jeff Fisher) knows our names now. He already knew my name,” Blount said, via the Boston Herald. “I think he knows James and Dion now for sure, though.”

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